We tend to romanticize dragons a lot in human culture, glamorizing the awe-inspiring majesty of gigantic, fire-breathing, flying lizard-beasts, painting pictures of them for centuries in cultures all over the globe. Dragons get fetishized, feared but also admired, and, in some ways, even longed for. But that’s only because nobody is really thinking about how much it would suck to have skies filled with massive hungry carnivores that shoot jets of flame. It’d be miserable, inconvenient, and, very likely, expensive. If you believe in the idea of the multiverse, then somewhere out there is a world like ours, but with huge, hungry dragons flying around. With that in mind, the only reasonable question to ask is: “What would the cars be like in such a universe?”
Dragons or no dragons, people are still people, and as such we have places to be, business to do, trips to take, errands to run, booties on which to call, junkyards to scour. For all of these things we need our cars, and no stupid overgrown lizard with fiery halitosis is going to stop us.
So, we need to be logical about the Dragon Problem, and really break it down and see how to solve it. Fundamentally, dragons cause two main types of interference with the motoring public:
Flame attacks and “swoop and grab” events are the main issues. In the first, a dragon swoops down and attempts to incapacitate the car, filled as it is with delicious, soft, tangy humans, by blasting it with its flame-breath. An unprotected car would soon have its roof melted, leaving the well-cooked people inside effectively served to the dragon in a bento box that was once your car.
The second attack is closer to how other flying predators capture prey: by swooping down fast and grabbing the lunch with powerful talons. Dragons can swoop down and grab a car, carrying it off, then dropping it to kill the people inside before breath-cooking them and going to town.
An effective car for the dragon world needs to address both of these situations, and do so without becoming unaffordable, because I think the economic toll of a world full of destructive dragons will already be extremely significant. Maintenance for almost everything is likely orders of magnitude more expensive in a world with dragons, so we need to try to come up with solutions that are simple, robust, and sustainable.
With that, I give you the Dragon World Car:
Most obvious is the heat shield assembly on the roof. By design, the heat shield is fairly simple in shape, a series of five flat panels that are designed to be easy to replace by the owner with no special tools. Each panel has a DOT-mandated inspection lamp, so you can assess the condition of the heat shield before driving, even at night, as it is illegal to drive with a compromised heat shield panel.
Police are also on the lookout for heat shields in poor condition, and you will get ticketed if you have a compromised panel, or if the inspection lamp is out, so best stay on that.
The basic technology is essentially the same as that used as a heat shield material on space capsules like the Apollo Command Module. This type of heat shield has a structure that doesn’t require exotic materials: it’s a fiberglass honeycomb, filled with an ablative heat shield material like AVCOAT, which is silica fibers in an epoxy novolac resin.
This sort of heat shield can withstand up to 5,000° F, well within the range of what I just now decided a dragon’s fire would be. The disadvantage of this sort of ablative shield is that it does char and, well, ablate, so it should be considered a consumable, and will require periodic replacement.
Other more reusable heat shield materials are available, like the Space Shuttles’ tile-based Thermal Protection System (TPS), but these ultra-pure silica ceramic tiles are much more expensive and fragile than the fiberglass-and-resin ablative heat shield solution. For the daily rigors of automotive use, I think the ablative heat shield would be a better choice.
In worlds plagued with dragons, car heat shield panels would come in a few standard sizes, be mass-produced and sold cheaply at most big box home and garden stores, as well as Wal-Mart, probably. In general, they’re likely good for three big blasts from a dragon before requiring replacement. The inspection lamps are usually part of the replacement panels, since they tend to get melted off after a few attacks, but they can be changed independently, if needed.
Every driver needs to know how to swap a heat shield panel, and this is part of the standard driver’s test. But don’t worry, it’s pretty easy, usually not even requiring tools.
Slightly more complex is the swoop-and-grab problem, and while there’s a fairly simple mechanism to solve this, it does require a specific infrastructure to work. The infrastructure is a single channel down the middle of every lane, a channel with reinforced steel covers that forms an inverted T-shape in cross-section. These “anchor slots” are built into the lanes of most major highways and large city streets, but may not be present on smaller or secondary roads.
In the case of roads without an anchor slot, regulations mandate anchor slot pull-off areas every one to five miles, depending on the dragon population density of the region. As you can see, anchor slot pull-off areas are marked with a distinctive bright red zig zag line pattern.
The way the system works is like this. Every car has an inverted T-shaped anchor with rollers on the ends that is mounted to the frame of the car in a very robust manner. The anchor is spring-loaded so that its rest position is down and perpendicular to the car; that is, the locked position. The anchor is designed to require no motors or electric power or anything, and if the spring breaks while in use, the anchor will always end up in locked position, as a failsafe.
When driving on roads with no anchor or exiting a road with an anchor slot, a lever in the car allows the anchor to be rotated to be parallel to the car and raised up, allowing it to be removed from the anchor slot:
All parking spaces would be required to have an anchor slot in them as well.
While the car will undoubtedly sustain a good amount of damage, an anchor system in DOT-approved condition will hold the car to the anchor slot with enough security that at least 97.5% of adult domestic dragons will not be able to break the car free. The roller-based design of the anchor permits the car to continue to drive and accelerate while anchored in an attempt to break free from the dragon’s grasp.
Of course, on a road without an anchor slot, the driver will have to evade the dragon until an anchor slot pull-off area is found. Drivers are trained in tactics to confuse and frustrate dragons if caught on anchor slot-free roads, but this is at best a delaying tactic until an anchor slot pull-off can be reached.
Even though it’s just a basic slot in the road and a relatively simple anchor on the car, the materials required must be robust and must be maintained diligently if the system is to work, and that’s not cheap. There’s no room for rusty anchor mounts or anchor slot upper covers in a world of dragons; it’s literally the difference between getting to your book club or being a charred set of bones found in a huge pile of dragon scat by the side of the road, so please take maintenance seriously.
Forget your Magic cards and Lord of the Ring movies and all those seasons of Game of Thrones — there’s nothing fun about living in a world where dragons exist. It’s expensive and frustrating and you’re always nervous, scanning the heavens for that little dot that could all too quickly become your doom. Not being at the top of the food chain deeply sucks. Ask any rabbit you meet. Even so, we’re still going to want to drive, so I’m extremely happy there are solutions out there. Be careful, dragon-world motorists, and inspect those heat shield panels!
Dragons would likely have to adapt to be ambush predators or do their hunting on city streets. At least by the current iteration of the ‘World’s Most Popular RPG’ they’re not exactly speedy fliers, but I dunno what our benchmark is here.
If it is the current ruleset of the game that birthed them all, then Zemthrodax, Eater of Kias is going to have to hope he can get to Karen’s Carnival and her twenty-one cupholders before she can leave the subdivision for the relative safety of the freeway – and her gated planned unit development most likely has guard towers. Not saying a rifle would be a strong deterrent, but I imagine more well-to-do patches of suburbia will have a network of guard towers and anti-air batteries – but that brings with it a new danger in falling dragons. Homeowner’s insurance can only go so far, right?
Then there’s the danger dragons pose to distilleries, breweries, farms, etc. Dragon physiology probably allows them to eat barrels of bourbon like gushers, and once the drunken hunger sets in, they’re going to be wiping out whole farms, one cow at a time. In that universe, I’ll probably never taste Blanton’s again, but who knows, they might just hoard the barrels in a sort of dracnocratic prohibition and control the populace not with wanton savagery and burnination, but with control over humanity’s vices, and, uh…
I am really overthinking this, but I’m getting ideas, which is not nothing.
Ablative heat shield? You’re going to want to go with silicon dioxide tiles. As used on the Space Shuttle, but with none of the extreme shaking or dynamic air pressure to knock one off. Probably unless you have a NOS system rigged. Or maybe a V-6. Lightweight to keep the CG lower than a heavy coating of ablative material would, and which would burn off and leave you rolling coal as you’re attacked anyway. Will NO ONE think of cyclists?
Coatings would need to be reapplied after every hit from the dragons that fill the skies, and I’ve got to tell you, taking care of the coatings on a stealth aircraft after every drive eats up your Operations and Maintenance costs like you would not believe. There’s virtually no maintenance on tiles other than to check that they are there. Pressure sensors, or maybe even optical sensors, that will throw a code for a new hole would be a breeze.
On the Shuttle, the tiles were glued by hand into place by people who spit in the glue to keep it from setting. Sandy Munro will lose his mind about that, so the answer is obviously to use 3M Dual Lock to snap down the tiles. All of which, ideally, are the same size and shape so as to to keep down the number of SKUs.
It’s the tires that I am worried about.
Lol, ok Jason, since you’ve “decided” that dragon fire is about 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, and steel and glass both melt well below 5k°, and cremation requires only 1800 degrees….. Hmmm
I think the solution here is aluminum [aluminium or tin, depending on your dialect] foil.
You can quickly dissuade a cat from jumping onto counters by putting sheets of crinkly foil where they might like to land. I might personally get a chortle watching them recoil and bounce off the foil every time they try, and they quickly learn that counters have foil and knock that behaviour off.
I betcha there’s some product, some… *something*, that dragons would hate. Maybe having their insides of their toes tickled with a bit of electricity? So people might start putting balls of steel wool hooked up to the car’s electrical system on convenient grab points. Dragon swoops down, makes the grab, and then a little bzzt between their foot-pinkies and whoah! They let go, they hate it.
Or maybe they hate lemon juice so cars just have little squirters to mist up the area, and the dragons are all like, “Ugh, vitamin C and healthy diets, I’m outta here,” and go look for a car crewed by people with a strict bacon diet.
Granted, none of this does anything to stop them from roasting the car first, but that’s a problem with a gen-yew-wine Torchinsky solution.
For context, I read this article aloud to my wife (with dramatic highlights and bits physically acted out) as we were preparing to call it a night, and maaaaaybe we had a good ten minutes of laughter imagining dragons recoiling from crinkly-foil-roofed cars.
In the end, I’d like to propose to our alternate-dragon-dimension friends that there’s merit in dissuasion and the reduced infrastructure costs may reap enormous taxpayer benefits for generations to come.
I scrolled pretty far and didn’t find anyone that mentioned…
THIS IS THE SOLUTION FOR ELECTRIC CARS!
I mean, we already do 1/64 scale slot cars, or whatever.
Why not make that anchor channel be the “slot” for our “1:1 slot cars”?
Another problem would be this:
I can think of at least one subreddit that would be thrilled if dragons and cars actually lived together. I think they’d be less concerned about heat shielding though, and more R&D would be spent on tailpipe condoms.
Grade-A Prime Torchinsky material right here. Love it to pieces!
Literally. Torch in sky. <3
Is Jason off his meds? I ask myself this question frequently. The answer is that he is not actually on meds.
God, you know this very well brings back the thought of “dragoning” from Jalopnik. I hate it so much that I remembered it.
Torch, I like the thoughts, but the solution is obviously to go Vietnam era gun truck. Preferably ones using a 5 ton truck. and a quad 50.
I believe our cars would be the same magnificent sedans and roadsters we have today, but there would be a radio system for dragon sightings where they’d deploy a truck with naval anti-air cannons shooting giant rubber bullets or possibly fireworks to scare off the dragon. That’s assuming they are considered endangered, otherwise they’d be shot down with flak. By the time we industrialized, any remaining dragons would have learned to avoid humans out of fear.
“Breaker, breaker! There’s a Smokey in the air near exit 66!”
“There’s nothing fun about living in a world where dragons exist. It’s expensive and frustrating and you’re always nervous, scanning the heavens for that little dot that could all too quickly become your doom. Not being at the top of the food chain deeply sucks. Ask any rabbit you meet. ”
Good news for rabbits, I have the solution: Deer!
Now we just need deer big enough to take out a dragon.
You know what animal almost never gets grabbed by birds? The PORCUPINE! Cars should have defensive spikes covering them like porcupines or sea urchins. Spikes are also good at dissipating heat.
This can be used in conjunction with the road anchors but allow for off-roading or travel on rural routes that may not have the proper infrastructure.
“You know what animal almost never gets grabbed by birds? The PORCUPINE! Cars should have defensive spikes covering them like porcupines or sea urchins. Spikes are also good at dissipating heat.”
I’ll do you one better: Harpoons
1) There would need to be something on top of the car that would break-away if the dragon grabbed it. Would porcupine quills be aerodynamic?
2) I was watching a Jurassic World movie critique by a paleontologist, and he pointed-out that humans are poor calories when you consider easier, denser prey. Our herd animals would be the first to go.
The retention slot wouldn’t be practical on seldom-used county roads, never mind off-road. For that, cars would need to have a mechanism (better yet, two) that would fire a piton into the ground to anchor you. This could be done manually, with a panic button, or automatically, by the dragon-detection systems that would no doubt emerge.
Rather than slots and pegs in the road, why not just make the cars too heavy for a dragon to lift? Surely in that world some research has been done on that subject. The extra weight needed could be made of additional dragon-proofing materials.
You also need to heat-shield the tires. An intelligent dragon could easily disable the car, and at least one snack would come out to change the tire. Or if the car is stopped, the dragon could land and roast the occupants from there.
Given those parameters, it seems like shielded trains would make the most sense in this world, with indoor or underground stations.
I haven’t been able to read through all of the responses yet, so it’s possible these issues have already been addressed, but I find 2 major issues with this design.
1. The heatshield restricts your view of oncoming dragons. Therefor you won’t usually see a swoop attack coming, and can’t actively dodge it very well when not engaged in a t-slot.
2. Rotation attacks. Dragons are smart enough to learn that they can just pick up the car and rotate it 90 degrees to break free from the t-slot. I expect this anchor design to only work effectively for 3-9 months before the majority of the dragon population is keen to this workaround. It would be more expensive, and more likely to need maintenance, but I think a cross-patteren 4-rollerball bearing anchor would be a better solution, though I think a real solution that solves both problems is to just have all roads covered with fire-retardant material roofing, or that we only install roadways underground.
Of course, underground roadways introduce their own new problems, but with all the money we save on replacing cars and fireproofing materials, I think we can afford to add in venting and structural reinforcement in the tunnels.
In a world with large, fire-breathing, flying dragons, humans would not be driving cars.
We’d be riding dragons.
*Three months* to get to an article with illustrations of dragons and cars.
To expand on this, we would need options like:
– Reactive Armor.
– Electrified cars to zap the dragon.
– Decoys with explosives. Have the dragon spend time trying to determine of boom or food.
– More underground passages.
– Patrol planes on major routes/react to aggression. A squadron of Warthogs and C-130 Angel of Deaths taking care of the issue.
I like this.
AC-130, though impressive as a ground support platform, would probably get roasted pretty quickly.
“AC-130, though impressive as a ground support platform, would probably get roasted pretty quickly.”
Depends who’s got the higher ceiling.